The Curious Learner

Curiosity is the gateway to learning.


I have spoken about the three “C’s” of being a Learning Rebel.  Innate Curiosity, Challenge Conventional Thinking, Courage of Conviction.

To me it looks like this.

Learning Rebel 3 C


All three interlock, one for all and all for one, and all that good stuff.  Lately my focus has been on curiosity.  I’m stumped as to why, as an industry, we aren’t more curious about the world around us.  I suppose it will take bigger brains that mine to figure out why people just accept what they are told or what they believe as final word, regardless of facts and data.  Oh wait, someone has… “Why Do People Persist in Believing Things That Just Aren’t True” ~ From the New Yorker

Here is a telling conclusion from the above article: “The message can’t change unless the perceived consensus among figures we see as opinion and thought leaders changes first.” (Um, calling all ASTD leadership to the learning styles booth…but I digress)

My point here is about the need for curiosity.  The curious in us would, to take Learning Styles as an example; find research, find data, read the whitepapers, and draw our own conclusions.  However because VAK is in just about every “Train the Trainer” book out there, we take the collective word of authority.  Tribal knowledge must be correct, and it’s easier to believe the talking points that actually read the story.

That being said, let me break down learning curiosity into two areas.  


Curiosity2 First, as L&D professionals, we should be insanely, innately, ravenously curious about our industry.  

What are you reading now? What have you learned about “learning” lately? With whom are you having a robust conversation about learning? Example, just the other day, the beginning of debate surface between myself and a peer about role playing (I dislike them, he doesn’t).  Those types of debates are good for the brain, it feeds the mind. Doctor heal thyself! Innovation in learning does not happen because we are satisfied with what is happening around us, it happens because of the exact oppositeWhy? Should be the question on all our lips at the ready.  Why do we do “it” this way? Why does “everyone” believe “that”? Why isn’t there a better way?

I am going to participate in Mike Taylors Learn Camp this summer.  You know why? Because.  Because, I’ll learn something new.  In this camp, Mark Britz will be discussing “Why blogging is still important.” I’ll be paying attention.  Even though I blog and understand the relevance – who can turn down an opportunity to hear from Mark Britz, I guarantee that I’ll pick up an idea or two, or be inspired in some way.  That’s why.

Let’s put it this way – As trainers, we have planned sessions where the assigned pre-work includes reading of some sort.  We then shake our collective heads in dismay when the students tell us they didn’t have the time to do the reading.  Shame on them, don’t they know the reading was important to the course?  Shame on us, if we have different expectations of the student than we do ourselves.  If we don’t have time to sharpen the saw how can expect people whose day to day doesn’t include daily development to “sharpen their saw”? Pot.Black. 

Big picture Secondly, we should be just as curious about the business for which we work.  

During the last session I facilitated, which included L&D professionals, I asked the group about understanding the company financials.  Embarrassingly only a smattering of hands went up. We want a seat at the table, but we don’t want to do the work that will get us there.  YOU have to build the chair people.  If you remember from CSI: Learning Needs Investigation, at any given time you should be able to answer the following questions about your business:

  1. What are the financial goals for your business this year?
  2. What are the key strategic thrusts of your organization?
  3. Where is your department to budget as of this point in the year?
  4. Is the sales team on task to meet their sales goals?
  5. What are the top initiatives of IT? HR? Marketing?
  6. Are top line revenues producing bottom-line results?
  7. What are the results of the last safety audit?
  8. What is the turnover percentage of the organization?
  9. What are the KPI’s of your department, where are you to meeting those KPI’s?
  10. Did you read last year’s annual report?  Where you on the last company update call to stockholders? Would you be able to hold your own during a discussion about the business results?

If you can’t answer those basic business questions, then you need to put on your curious hat. Your company P&L tells story, it’s up to your to know how to read it and find the story.  Don’t know how? That’s okay, that’s what curiosity is for, it means seeking out a person in the organization to mentor you, and help you to improve and learn.


Learning Rebels think for themselves, form opinion based on solid research and not as quoted above; dependent on the opinions of leadership.  Where is the curious learner in you?  The back of milk carton? Left behind in a childhood sandbox? Find your inner curiosity and have some fun with it!

My contribution to the curious learner is this Google Doc that has recorded reading suggestions by a number of great people.  To date there are 30 books listed, if that doesn’t get your curiosity bubbling, I don’t know what will!

It is an open document, so please add to it.  Let’s share! Let’s help each other grow and learn together and remember – Curiosity is the gateway to learning! 

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

20 thoughts on “The Curious Learner”

  1. Question: (Because I have the same discussions with my colleagues) Why do you not like Role Playing? My Client wants me to include it in my classes, and I’ve agreed to do it in one area that I think it might be helpful. I never liked doing it, and I don’t like making my participants do it.

    • Hi Linda – Thanks for the question! In short, the type of role playing exercises that I specifically don’t like conducting in my sessions are the type that force a pair to act out in front of group. It is my belief, that regardless as to how well the role play is moderated or organized, adults just don’t like being put on the spot. It is my experience, for the most part, that put in that sort of situation adults become anxious and uncomfortable – thus becoming more worried about “performing” than learning. I prefer, what I think provides a safer environment – a teach back, which can be conducted in pairs or triads. In my opinion, if the facilitator organizes this well and is floating and listening, conversations won’t digress and the learning is deeper. People become less afraid to make mistakes. No one likes to make mistakes or be perceived as “not catching on” in front of their peers. In this activity the role of the instructor/facilitator is key. Redirection and coaching are required, which is a far better (again in my opinion) learning experience. More work for the instructor, but a far better outcome. Hmmmm, I feel a new blog bubbling! Hope this helps, and thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Excellent article, Shannon! You’ve captured many of my thoughts about encouraging others to be passionate learners. I encourage presenters for the L&D program here at Ball State University to have insatiable curiousity! Well said! Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm, you learning rebel!

    • Jerry – thank you for the comment. Learning curiosity is obviously a passion of mine. I hold true to the belief that the only way we are going to progress as an industry is to get out there and learn new things. We can continue to use research written in 1965 or move into the 21st century of learning design, development and philosophy. Hopefully for the benefit of our learners we chose the later. Keep on dropping by, and hopefully you signed up for the newsletter!

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